Ever since I could remember I always loved to learn and help others. Be it to learn how things work, why something was designed a specific way, and/or what made this thing function the way it did. All of those questions fuelled my curiosity and passion to learn, to understand, and to help others understand or solve their problem. There is something satisfying about knowing how things work, why they work, and being able to answer people’s questions with an appropriate answer. Plenty of people are not too concerned about the how and why, and are just happy that it works; this is absolutely fine as well. For me however, the more I understand something the more I can leverage it to my advantage getting the absolute most out of it. This is probably another reason why I became a Software Engineer and continued to study after my Bachelor degree to obtain a Master degree.
I encountered a small technical issue yesterday and was browsing Stack Overflow to see how others resolved their problem and what the exact root cause was. There was a perfect answer to the issue with a equally perfect explanation as to why it was failing and how the fix solves the issue. Sometimes when I see the answers to questions on Stack Overflow there is just an answer with little to no explanation as to why it fixes the issue. These answers I feel are not that great because really you don’t learn and understand how to fix the problem, you just use a solution without understanding the problem properly. You don’t learn anything. If I do encounter just an answer to the problem I try to read up further as to why this solution works. In the long run being able to understand the problem completely and how the solution fixes it is far more beneficial.
On a daily basis I try to learn something new, be it a new functionality that I didn’t know in Java, C++ or C# had or how to use my body to ensure that I can easily incapacitate an attacker with minimal effort using BJJ. By me constantly learning something new every day I can better myself which in turn I can try and assist others to better themselves or provide a solution to a problem they have encountered. This desire to learn has helped me in my career so far as a Software Engineer, as you need to constantly develop your skills and research new and upcoming technological trends to stay relevant. It is a challenge to try and better yourself day in and day out, but when you go to bed at night and you think about what you have learnt that day or how you have helped someone, it makes going to sleep that much easier.
Nearly everyone in their working life will experience at some point a very tight deadline, significantly increased pressure to complete a specific task, and/or an insanely amount of extra hours that are expected of you to do. In the software industry (could also be used in other industries not too sure) this is referred to as “crunch“. There are many articles out there about crunch, especially in the video game industry. It is a time where you rarely see your family and friends, you eat and drink way too much junk food, your regular exercise regime is thrown completely out the window, and you may even dream about the code you had written (and not in a good way).
Currently during my software engineering career I have only ever experienced this crunch period twice. I wouldn’t consider the first time really crunch though. I did have to work towards a really tight deadline, longer hours, but it was only for a very short time. The second crunch I experienced was recently and it was for a longer period with an insanely tight deadline, a significant amount of work, and very long hours both during the normal work week and weekend. Personally I think crunch every so often, but not too frequently is a good thing. A little stress and hard work can be beneficial. In saying that though, working in an environment where you are in crunch mode every couple of weeks is probably not great for your well-being and highlights a potential problem with the operations of your organisation.
During my crunch I had to unfortunately stop attending my BJJ classes, working on my side projects, playing video games and even going out with friends and having a couple of beers. After my crunch period ended, I was exhausted but I made a commitment to myself to go back to my BJJ classes and attend my usual social gatherings at the minimum. With the software engineers that I worked with during this crunch period, I asked them how did they cope with all the stress, what techniques they used to mitigate feeling like garbage, and do they have any tips or tricks to make crunch not feel like a massive drain? All of them essentially came back with the same or similar responses:
- Breathe and take everything one step at a time:
- Don’t panic as panicking will only make things worse.
- Rushing or not paying attention to what you are doing will only cause you to make more mistakes and then cause you to panic even more.
- Switch off after your day is done:
- You most likely won’t work for 24 hours so when you are done for the day and have worked close to 20 hours, clock off.
- Focus on something you enjoy and do not bring your work home with you.
- Be with your family and/or friends, or enjoy what little sleep you can get.
- Communicate and do it early:
- There is nothing worse than needing help and not asking for it, you will only then fall further behind, rush and make mistakes and/or panic.
- Others may be able to help you solve the problem faster and you will less likely panic if you know that others are here to help.
Along with all of these handy little tips and tricks I remembered some of the useful information that was presented in “The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers” Chapter 11 – Pressure. That chapter essentially had the same information as what my colleagues had said to me.
Come the next crunch (which I know will happen at some point in the future) I will be better prepared mentally and will ensure that when I do get some time to myself\ I spend it making sure my body gets the rest it deserves or spend it with the people I enjoy being around. Keep my mind and body sane and happy 🙂
The last two weeks or so I have been thinking about what I enjoy the most about being a software engineer. Do I love implementing new and exciting features for the customers to use? Absolutely. Do I enjoy designing and building new tools to make lives easier for the software engineers and testers where I work? Of course. Out of all the tasks that I perform on a daily basis, nothing beats fixing bugs.
The way you need to think is completely different in my opinion when you are fixing bugs compared to designing and implementing something from scratch or adding a new component. I treat this process much like a problem solving game where I assume the role of a detective trying to find out where the problem is happening, why it is happening and what is the best way to fix it so that in the future it won’t break again. With the use of logs, breakpoints and tests I ensure that the problem is fixed.
Why you may ask that I prefer to fix bugs over performing other tasks? It is extremely challenging, rewarding and you need to pay even greater attention to what you are doing. It really is the ultimate problem solving challenge in some ways. Your absolute attention to detail and focus is imperative and the amazing feeling you get when you successfully fix the bug is satisfying.
In the future will I still love fixing bugs over other tasks? I don’t really know. Most likely though I would say yes. I have always enjoyed a challenge, the problem solving game and that feeling you get when you succeed. Only time will tell, but right now any time I look at the Kanban boards or have issues assigned to me and it is a bug I get excited no matter how small or large the problem may be.